Democrats bet Obama-bashing in Iowa will backfire on GOP

In Iowa, the daily bombardment of criticism aimed at President Barack Obama seems to have no end.

“The United States has failed miserably to secure our border,” GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry said in Muscatine the other day.

At about the same time, fellow Republican Mitt Romney was blasting Obama for creating what he called an “entitlement society” that is making people more government-dependent.

“We will not surrender our dreams to the failures of this president,” Romney said just days before the Jan. 3 Iowa presidential caucuses.

But if Iowa Democrats are discouraged, they hide it well. In interview after interview, they insist that the pounding from Republicans is backfiring and will motivate a Democratic base that’s been dormant for months. They said they are confident Obama will win the state in November.

“We’re getting fired up for our caucuses,” said Pat Sass, chairwoman of the Black Hawk County Democratic Party. “I think he (Obama) will do just fine. These Republicans are going on and on, and so much of it is lies. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem at all.”

Sass said she had commitments from more than 1,000 county voters to attend the Jan. 3 Democratic caucuses, which are receiving far less attention than the Republican contest because Obama is unchallenged. Eight Republicans are vying to win the GOP caucuses the same night.

Sass said getting attendance commitments from those 1,000 hasn’t been hard. “We’re fired up and ready to go,” she said.

Although Obama beat Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election in Iowa by 54 percent to 44 percent, his 2012 prospects remain tougher to project.

“You’ve got a lot of Democrats saying, ‘I wish he would just lead and get up there and fight back,’ ” said Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford. “There’s that sort of disappointment there.”

Much depends on whom the Republicans eventually nominate, he said. Obama’s “still in a position where he’s got to fight for it here,” Goldford said.

A University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll released Dec. 15 showed two GOP front-runners, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, holding slight leads over Obama in a state where the jobless rate just dropped from 6 percent to 5.7 percent in November.

In a sample of nearly 1,000 registered Iowa voters, Gingrich led Obama by 46 percent to 43 percent, with 11 percent undecided, while Romney led Obama 43 percent to 42 percent with 15 percent undecided.

Although Iowa offers only six Electoral College votes next year (down from seven in 2008), it’s a state that many Democratic analysts believe Obama must carry to remain in the White House.

Obama’s campaign appears to understand Iowa’s significance. While Republican candidates in the state have no more than one office each, Obama’s Organizing for America already has eight, including one in Sioux City in far western Iowa, and another in Dubuque on the state’s eastern border.

Organizing for America said it has already held more than 1,000 training and planning sessions, house parties and phone banks across the state and has made more than 250,000 phone calls to supporters.

It also has announced that the president will speak with Iowa supporters on caucus night via a live webcast that will be seen at caucus sites across the state.

“This is another opportunity for President Obama to reach out and speak directly to voters on the ground in Iowa,” said Obama’s Iowa state director, Derek Eadon.

Obama backers insist that the effort now under way will remain in operation all the way through the 2012 election.

“We’ve built a grass-roots campaign,” said Iowa Organizing for America spokesman John Kraus. “Look at where we’ll be on Jan. 4 looking forward to next November compared to where the Republicans are going to be, which is shutting off the lights, leaving town and going to another state.”

Goldford said all the organizing will help Obama.

“Their task is to get the base enthused again and especially get the independents back,” he added.

Nationwide, turnout among Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections plummeted far more than it did among Republicans compared to 2008, Goldford noted.

“What the Obama people have to do is make the 2012 electorate a lot more like the 2008 electorate than the 2010 electorate,” he pointed out.

If raw enthusiasm is any indicator, Iowa Democrats think they’re already in a good place. While they won’t match the 240,000 or so Democrats who turned out for the 2008 caucus when Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards fought for the nomination, they think they’ll post solid numbers on Jan. 3.

In Dubuque County, Democratic chair Walt Pregler expects as many as 1,500 Democrats to turn out on caucus night. That’s nothing compared to four years ago, he said, but not bad considering how aggressively Republicans have attacked the president over the last four years.

“It has devastated him,” Pregler said of the barrage of criticism. “But it’s going to take a lot of people on the Republican side to try to explain all the boo-boos they’ve made trying to block everything he’s wanted.”

Jennifer Herrington, chair of the Democratic Party in Page County near Iowa’s southwest corner, expects a 100-person turnout. She said the evening will be a celebration of the president’s accomplishments. “We’re excited,” she said.

Herrington and Pregler said Obama’s cause might be helped if he visited the state shortly before the caucuses just as President Bill Clinton did in 1996, two days before that year’s caucuses.

Clinton, eager to counter all the criticism aimed his way by GOP candidates such as Bob Dole, spoke to a crowd of 15,000 at the University of Iowa and reminded them that, “This election fundamentally is about you, and don’t you ever forget it.”

No such in-the-flesh visit from Obama is planned, which doesn’t bother Anita Martin, chair of the Marion County Democratic Party. “People I talk to are very enthusiastic about him and realize the problems he’s been going through,” she said. “I don’t get out and talk to that many people who are not Obama fans.”